More countries around the world are investing in renewable energy and last year spent more than green sources than on new coal and gas-fired power plants, according to a new report.
The report is entitled Renewables 2016 Global Status and was published by REN 21, an international body backed by the UN.
An estimated 147 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable power generation was added globally in 2015, the biggest annual increase ever, with the world now adding more renewable power annually than it adds fossil fuel capacity.
Investment reached $286 billion (£196 billion) in renewable power and fuels, not including funding for large hydropower schemes and heating and cooling technologies which would take the total much higher, the REN21 report stated.
In 2015, global investment in new renewable power capacity (excluding hydropower >50 MW), at $265 billion, was more than double the $130 billion allocated to new coal and natural gas-fired generation capacity.
Last year’s growth in renewables came despite fossil fuel prices falling to historic lows, and before a new global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions was agreed in Paris in December.
The report highlighted that bioenergy production continued to increase in 2015, helping to meet rising energy demand in some countries and contributing to environmental objectives.
However, the sector also faced a number of challenges, in particular from low oil prices and policy uncertainty in some markets. Bio-heat production for buildings and industrial uses grew slowly in 2015, with modern uses of bio-heat rising by approximately 3% from 2014 levels.
There has been marked growth in the use of biomass for district heating in the Baltic and Eastern European regions, according to the report.
The use of biopower has increased more quickly – averaging some 8% annually – with rapid growth in generation notable in China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. Ethanol production increased by 4% globally, with record production levels in the United States and Brazil, the report stated.
Global production of biodiesel fell slightly due to constrained production in some Asian markets, although growth continued in the major producing countries (the United States and Brazil).
The report also showed that blend mandates sheltered demand for biofuels from falling fossil fuels prices, but uncertainty about future markets constrained investment in new production capacity during the year.
2015 saw continuing progress in the commercialisation and development of advanced biofuels, with expansion in the capacity and production of fuels by both thermal and biological routes.
Worldwide there are 8.1 million people working in the renewable energy sector, the report said.
‘Fossil fuel prices’
Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, said: “What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies.
“For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Challenges that need to be addressed to shift the world away from fossil fuels include integrating large amounts of renewables into the grid, policy and political instability, barriers in regulation and financial constraints, the study said.
Arthouros Zervos, chairman of REN21, said: “The renewables train is barrelling down the tracks, but it’s running on 20th century infrastructure – a system based on outdated thinking where conventional baseload is generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power.
“To accelerate the transition to a healthier, more secure and climate-safe future, we need to build the equivalent of a high-speed rail network – a smarter, more flexible system that maximises the use of variable sources of renewable energy, and accommodates decentralised and community-based generation.”